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What might Oscar learn from Grammy?

What might Oscar learn from Grammy?
Kendrick Lamar performs Monday at the 58th Grammy Awards at Staples Center. Lamar won five awards, including best rap album. (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

Is there a lesson the Motion Picture Academy might learn from the Recording Academy to make its award nominations more reflective of the world at large?

That question was put to veteran record company executive Clive Davis and Recording Academy President Neil Portnow in the days leading up to Monday night's 58th Grammy Awards ceremony.

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"I'm not coming out here to critique anyone," Davis, 83, said with a smile last week at his hotel suite while making plans for his annual pre-Grammy Gala held Sunday at the Beverly Hilton Hotel. "But I think you have to take a look at how you do things if you overlook a film like 'Straight Outta Compton.'

"It tells a very powerful story, a very important story, one that is still very relevant today," he said. "To overlook that...."

Portnow didn't reference specific omissions or nods in the latest rounded of Academy Award nominations, for which the film academy has been roundly criticized, most loudly for the lack of diversity among the actor and supporting actor nominations.

But he noted differences in the way the two arts academies assemble the membership bodies that vote on their respective awards as well as differences in the process of making records and movies.

"To some degree, at the core, our constituencies have differences," Portnow said Friday during a break in rehearsals for the Grammy telecast at Staples Center.

"The difference in the process of membership is quite different too. In our case, we have a set of criteria — which, I will point out, we review every year; we're not waiting for anything to happen to make us realize that we have to be regularly reviewing all our processes and procedure.

"In our case," he said, "you establish a criteria for voting qualification, and anybody that is a professional who meets that qualification is entitled to become a member, and therefore entitled to vote.

"That's a little different than a system where membership is by invitation, albeit with qualifications," he said. "But it's a different system, and it does keep us open and available for those who qualify to join. And those who qualify to vote, can vote."

There also is the difference between what it takes to make a film and what goes into the act of recorded music.

"Musicians by nature have to be collaborative all the time," Portnow said. "They have to be able to listen. It's also in our DNA that genres cross, and history plays forward.

"You see the influence of so many different styles and genres that come together over the years that influence each other," he said. "That creates — Quincy [Jones] had a great word for it — 'a great gumbo.'  I think our community has pretty much always been that way.

"At the Grammy Museum, we have what we call the 'genre table' where you can take a look at any genre and look for and see the historic connections to other genres that preceded it and that followed it," Portnow said. "The influence of gospel music, of African music, of Americana and country music on other things ... so we have this great gumbo.

"Consequently," he said, "the membership of an organization that's based on gumbo is going to look like gumbo."

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